Details emerge about man at center of Alabama standoff

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MIDLAND CITY, Ala. -- As an Alabama standoff and hostage drama marked a sixth day Sunday, more details emerged about the suspect at the center, with neighbors and officials painting a picture of an isolated man estranged from his family.

Authorities say Jim Lee Dykes, 65 -- a decorated Vietnam War veteran known as Jimmy to neighbors -- fatally shot a school bus driver and abducted a 5-year-old boy from the bus, taking him to an underground bunker on his rural property. The driver, Charles Albert Poland Jr., 66, was buried Sunday.

Mr. Dykes, described as a loner who railed against the government, lives up a dirt road outside this tiny hamlet north of Dothan in the southeastern corner of the state. His home is just off the main road north to the state capital of Montgomery, about 80 miles away.

The FBI said in a statement Sunday that authorities continue to have an open line of communication with Mr. Dykes. The kidnapped boy requested Cheez-Its and a red Hot Wheels car, both of which were delivered to the bunker, a separate statement said. Authorities had said they also were delivering medicine and other comfort items, and that Mr. Dykes was making the child as comfortable as possible.

In the nearby community of Ozark, more than 500 people filed into the Civic Center to pay a final tribute to Mr. Poland, who was being hailed as a hero for protecting the other children on the school bus before he was shot Tuesday. Witnesses said Mr. Dykes boarded Mr. Poland's bus and handed him a note demanding that he hand over two young children. Mr. Poland opened the emergency door in the rear of the bus and blocked Mr. Dykes' way as the children escaped. Mr. Dykes shot him four times and took the 5-year-old boy, named Ethan.

Mr. Poland is now "an angel who is watching over" the little boy, said Dale County school superintendent Donny Bynum, who read letters written by three students who had ridden on Mr. Poland's bus. "You didn't deserve to die, but you died knowing you kept everyone safe," one child wrote.

Mr. Dykes grew up in the Dothan area. Mel Adams, a Midland City Council member who owns the lot where reporters are gathered, said he has known Mr. Dykes since they were ages 3 and 4.

Mr. Adams said he didn't know what caused the falling-out, but that he knew Mr. Dykes "had told part of his family to go to hell."

Midland City Mayor Virgil Skipper said Mr. Dykes' sister is in a nursing home. Mr. Adams said law enforcement officers have talked to Mr. Dykes' family members and advised them not to speak with reporters.

Government records and interviews with neighbors indicate that Mr. Dykes joined the Navy, serving on active duty from 1964 to 1969. His record shows several awards, including the Vietnam Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal. He was trained in aviation maintenance and at one point was based in Japan. It was unclear if he saw combat in Vietnam.

At some point after his time in the Navy, Mr. Dykes lived in Florida, where he worked as a surveyor and a long-haul truck driver. It's unclear how long he stayed there.

He had some scrapes with the law in Florida, including a 1995 arrest for improper exhibition of a weapon. The misdemeanor was dismissed. He also was arrested for marijuana possession in 2000.

He returned to Alabama about two years ago.

Neighbors described Mr. Dykes as a man who once beat a dog to death with a lead pipe, threatened to shoot children for setting foot on his property, and patrolled his yard at night with a flashlight and a firearm. Michael Creel said Mr. Dykes had an adult daughter, but the two lost touch years ago.

His property has a white trailer that, according to Mr. Creel, Mr. Dykes said he bought from FEMA after it was used to house evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. The property also has a steel shipping container -- like those on container ships -- in which Mr. Dykes stores tools and supplies.

Next to the container is the underground bunker where authorities say Mr. Dykes is holed up with the 5-year-old. Neighbors say the bunker has a pipe so Mr. Dykes could hear people coming near his driveway. Authorities have been using the ventilation pipe to communicate with him.


The New York Times contributed.


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